DOE gives $9 million for sugar-to-diesel process improvements

By Bryan Sims | July 20, 2011

San Francisco-based synthetic biology technology developer LS9 Inc. and partner HCL CleanTech Ltd. have been awarded a $9 million grant from the U.S. DOE to improve and demonstrate an integrated process to convert biomass feedstocks into fermentable sugars, and then subsequently into renewable diesel and other drop-in fuels and chemical products.

As part of the DOE grant, LS9 and HCL CleanTech will combine their proprietary technologies to produce drop-in advanced biofuels and other valuable biobased chemicals from wood waste and agricultural residues. HCL CleanTech was initially selected by the DOE in June to receive funding for a project that would develop and demonstrate process improvements for pretreatment, conversion to sugars and subsequently fuels.

LS9 employs fermentation-based techniques with the use of designer microbes that convert sugars, not lipids, into various diesel fuel substitutes, such as its UltraClean Diesel product, that meet or exceed relevant diesel fuel standards.

“We are very pleased with this award and look forward to working with our grant partner, HCL CleanTech, to deliver a successful integrated project,” said Ed Dineen, LS9’s president and CEO. “Demonstrating compatibility and integration of LS9’s broad technology platform with next generation biomass-based sugar technologies is a key strategic objective for the company.”

Specifically, the complete integrated process will use HCL CleanTech’s concentrated hydrochloric acid hydrolysis to convert pre-extracted biomass feedstocks, such as wood waste, into fermentable sugars and then convert the sugars into diesel and chemical products. According to HCL CleanTech’s website, “concentrated hydrochloric acid-driven hydrolysis provides the most powerful and only industrially proven technology for converting biomass to sugars that can be fermented to ethanol, or other biofuels, as well as a large variety of bioproducts, food and feed.”

The company states that employing HCl efficiently hydrolyzes all of the cellulosic materials and allows a range of feedstocks to be used with minimal configuration. Using the proprietary technologies developed in its laboratories, HCL CleanTech touts it has radically improved the recovery of the acid, as well as the recovery of valuable byproducts such as high-quality lignin and tall oils. The process uses virtually no virgin water and the lignin produced provides more than the energy necessary for the process.

Cost of the sugars produced by HCL CleanTech is more than 17 percent lower than the cost of corn mill sugars, while their quality is very similar, the company said. HCL CleanTech’s process is more than 80 percent environmentally friendlier than corn mill processes (per life-cycle analysis comparison).

In June 2010, HCL CleanTech began operation of its first pilot plant at Southern Research Institute in North Carolina. 

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